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February 21, 2022
There can be little question that if a thousand trainers, coaches and sundry exercise mavens were asked, “What is the single most beneficial resistance exercise?”, an overwhelming majority would answer, “The Squat!” Nothing really activates so many muscle groups in the body. It hits the real centers of strength and power: lower back, hips and thighs.
One can, of course, perform squats very well without any resistance beyond bodyweight. We all performed them back in our gym classes at school. “Deep knee bends” they were called back in the old days. “Air squats” seems to be the preferred term in the current era. These can deliver very good results, but very high repetitions are usually required to achieve this, and such workouts can become tedious and time-consuming. For this reason, most serious physical culturists prefer to utilize some sort of weighted resistance.
To this end, almost any suitably heavy object can be used. However, few would dispute that the supreme tool for developing maximum strength and power, both in squatting and most other exercises, is the barbell. So, why not just get a barbell and be done with it? Well, in the first place, a quality barbell with a suitable complement of collars and plates can be pretty expensive. It also takes up quite a lot of room. In addition, to effectively utilize a barbell, you will need either a permanently mounted rack or portable squat stands, the latter being less desirable from a safety standpoint (theoretically, anyway). While we’re on the topic of safety, you do not want to be pushing your barbell squats anywhere close to your maximum effort without a couple of suitably strong spotters at hand. Believe me, the last thing you want is to have a knee buckle or otherwise lose control when you’ve got 450+ pounds of iron and steel balanced on your shoulders!
If we rule out the barbell for sumo squats (whether it's because you don't have access to a barbell, you are not comfortable squatting with barbells, or you simply prefer other implements), the most effective and practical tools are the kettlebell and dumbbells. For squatting with a pair of kettlebells (of equal weight) or dumbbells in a shoulder rack or a “hang” position there should be little to no practical difference, but for squatting moves in which a single bell is utilized, the kettlebell is certainly the more efficient and elegant tool.
Squatting stances can be divided into major types: Standard and Sumo. In the former the legs are not much wider than the shoulders and the feet are angled out only to a slight degree. The sumo squat stance takes its name, as you might surmise, from the starting stance of a sumo wrestler, with the legs widespread, knees extended well beyond the shoulder and feet angled sharply outward.
Kettlebell Sumo Squat Muscles Worked:
Muscles most affected by the sumo squat include the gluteal muscles, hamstrings, rectus femoris, sartorius, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, adductor magnus, gastrocnemius and soleus. The sumo squat gets extra props for working as an inner thigh exercise as well, making it a compound move that hits most of the lower body.
Now if you’re hep to the anatomical lingo, you may realize that most of these muscles are also worked by standard squats. Briefly put, both forms of squatting do much the same job, and both are excellent variants of the same exercise. Standard squats work the quadriceps (the big outer muscles of the thigh) more, sumos hit the glutes and inner thighs harder.
Benefits of KB Sumo Squats:
Other claimed virtues of the sumo squat include improved hip mobility and range of motion, increased joint stability, less lower back stress, and less stress on the knees. This last has proved especially important to your correspondent. Last year, I received a diagnosis of arthritis in my right knee. I was sternly enjoined by my orthopedist to abstain from all squats and lunges. This was very dismaying to say the least. A workout without squats has always seemed like only half a workout, at least to me. Thus I was delighted to discover recently that I could perform all manner of variants of the kettlebell sumo squat with no discernible discomfort to my arthritic knee.
Here is a video exercise demonstration of the sumo squat with the kettlebell held in a goblet position.
Let’s now look at various ways the sumo (and standard) squat can be performed with a kettlebell (ranked easiest to hardest):
1. SUMO SQUAT/SUMO DEADLIFT:
The kettlebell sumo squat and kettlebell sumo deadlift are very similar exercises, the major (and perhaps only) difference being that in the squat the bell does not touch the floor, while in the deadlift it does, and you will keep your posture more upright with the squat, creating more knee flexion.
Assume the wide, sumo stance while standing almost directly over the kettlebell and raise the kettlebell up, primarily with leg (not back) power. Start your upward drive from your heels and stand erect with the kettlebell.
If you are even moderately strong, you may find you don’t have a kettlebell heavy enough to be challenging. Not to worry! The wide-spreading sumo stance allows you to employ two kettlebells without difficulty. If they are of different weights, be sure to alternate them between sets. If you value your kettlebells’ looks, take care not to let them clash together. This is especially true for “face” kettlebells, obviously.
You can also try standing your feet on a platform to increase range of motion!
2. GOBLET SQUAT:
This is the squat that most people probably perceive as the classic “kettlebell squat.”
Clean the kettlebell to chest height, holding the handle by the “horns” (the vertical parts of the handle) so that it is a little below your chin and perform your squats. Make sure you keep your back straight in an upright posture.
Goblet squats are equally well performed with either standard or sumo-style stances. This exercise is really not much different from front squats performed with a barbell—an excellent exercise in its own right.
If you want to make your goblet squats tougher, perform them with the base of the bell uppermost. You will find that the muscles of your “core” will have to struggle to keep the bell upright, and this exercise really taxes your grip and forearms. In all probability, you will either have to go to a lighter kettlebell or perform fewer reps should you go to the upside-down hold in preference to the “standard” goblet squat.
Finally, if all you have readily available is a small, light kettlebell but want a tough, challenging exercise, try squatting while holding the little guy overhead with the base uppermost. It will surprise you!
3. SHOULDER RACK (RACKED POSITION):
Clean a matched pair of kettlebells (or two kettlebells close in weight) to your shoulders in the “rack” position and squat.
This exercise is equally suitable for dumbbells and kettlebells and can be performed equally well using the standard or sumo squatting stance. If you are using mismatched kettlebells (one heavier than the other), be sure to shift them to alternate hands between sets or sequences.
SUMO-ING IT UP
Let’s face it, if the kettlebell is your primary squatting tool (for sumo or standard squats or both), you are not likely to build the 28- or 30-inch “quads” of the competitive bodybuilder. Neither are you likely to be able to perform 500-pound squats for reps, nor yet propel immense quantities of weight upward on a leg press machine.
However, these are not realistic goals for most of us. Kettlebell sumo squats can be performed at high repetitions to build endurance and enhance cardio fitness. They can otherwise give you the bodybuilding, strength-building and conditioning benefits of all but very heavy barbell work. Performed regularly and with good form, kettlebell squats should give you a pair of shapely, attractive, muscular legs, along with enhanced overall bodily strength and general fitness. All this can be achieved with a workout tool that is much less expensive, less obtrusive and less likely to cause injury than a barbell...at least as long as you don’t drop the kettlebell on your foot!
SFS Five Kettlebell Full Length Follow Along Workouts
Check out this extensive Kettlebell Training e-Guide (8-week Workout Program)
More Kettlebell Exercise Articles:
Kettlebell Exercises by Muscles Groups:
Author: Jan Libourel
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